Nip Bad Behavior in the Bud (Book Excerpt from IGNORE IT!) by Catherine Pearlman

The Preemptive Strike

Sometimes parents don’t feel they have the time or energy to do Ignore it!. They try to forestall it—but not in a helpful way. Every few seconds, Mom or Dad might say, “You better stop that or I’ll [fill in the punishment].” The problem with this is twofold. First, parents repeatedly threaten with [fill in the punishment], but they know (and the child knows) that punishment will likely never come. It’s a completely empty threat. If the parents were really going to go through with the penalty, they would just act, not merely threaten it. The second issue is that, in the process of trying to avoid having to Ignore it!, the parent is providing the very attention that is reinforcing the behavior.

Offense is your best defense. Be proactive in planning or using the other preventative measures discussed in Chapter 11. However, if the child is already exhibiting the behavior you are trying to eliminate, warning that you will soon start to Ignore it! will not work. In fact, it does the opposite. Just Ignore it! and then it will go away.

Let’s Speed This Up

Parents are busy people. Even ones who are conscientiously trying to use Ignore it! find themselves in a bind from time to time. They know they have to Ignore it! until the child stops the behavior. But sometimes they reach a point where they are tired of waiting, so they try to hurry the whole process along. In attempting to rush to the reengage phase of Ignore it!, parents make an important mistake.

Here’s an example: Michelle was planning an afternoon at the park with some friends. The idea was to wait until the youngest of her three children woke from a nap, then head out. The two older kids, Natasha and Marni, played chess on the kitchen table as they waited for their sister to wake up. Mom told them to start cleaning up because she wanted to be ready to leave. They requested more time. “Not today. We don’t have more time,” Mom said. “Please clean up now.”

Although Marni followed orders, Natasha wasn’t going to take no for an answer. She whined. She complained. She whined some more. On and on she went, but Mom used Ignore it!. Meanwhile, Marni had put the game away by the time the baby stirred. Mom changed the diaper and was ready to go. The problem was Natasha was still having her tantrum. Mom stood quietly waiting for Natasha to settle so she could reengage her. But it was taking forever. Mom lost her patience. So she said, “Calm down, Natasha, so we can go.” Mom just told her in so many words that if she didn’t calm down they wouldn’t be able to leave. Mom continued to try to speed up the Ignore it! process by offering incentives to stop crying and get in the car. Instead of focusing her attention on the other kids, Mom devoted it all to Natasha, again reinforcing the behavior.

In order for Natasha to learn that arguing and hysterics won’t help her out, her mom needed to eliminate the benefits. But in her attempt to rush to the finish line, she provided several. Natasha received loads of attention, and she was able to delay departure to the park. If you start to Ignore it!, make sure to fully wait out the behavior before trying to reengage. This is an enormously important point. Because if you ignore the behavior— but then intervene— you ensure that the behavior will not only continue but likely turn worse. Children might get the message that in order for you to intervene they need to be more dramatic or more obnoxious. Don’t let that happen by ignoring completely until the behavior vanishes.

Oops, Forgot a Step





There are four steps to Ignore it!. The first three steps are nonnegotiable. They must be completed and in the correct order. The last one is still required, but not in all circumstances. Remember I Like Relaxed Reading? Hopefully, the mnemonic helps you remember the steps and the order. But for a variety of reasons, parents sometimes miss a step. For some parents, ignoring is the easy part. They are so frustrated and exhausted from the aggravated behavior that they are thrilled to look the other way. They relish the momentary break from a difficult relationship. But those are the same parents who tend to skip the reengage stage. Reengaging with a positive attitude helps parent and child put the incident in the past. It helps make sure behavior ends without residual anger. If parents don’t show kids they have moved on by reengaging, there is an increased risk of the behavior returning. So even if you have to fake the positive vibe, put on a happy face and get back in there. Don’t shortchange yourself if you are putting in the effort to Ignore it!.

Parents can usually easily remember that kids may need to repair a few things after an incident. They reengage positively and then tell the offender to apologize for behavior or clean up a mess made during a tantrum. But very often, parents forget to make a repair for their behavior. Parents are human, and they, too, make mistakes. In a moment of anger, some say mean stuff they soon regret. Some turn aggressive when challenged. Some act out in other ways that are equally damaging to a relationship.

Acknowledging where you went wrong in an incident with your child can go a long way in moving on and repairing a troubled relationship. If you have done something that was unkind, inconsiderate, or inappropriate, apologize. You can model for your child how it’s done. Additionally, apologizing normalizes mistakes. They happen to everyone, even parents. Say sorry and mean it.


(Photo credit: Diana Schmitt)

Catherine Pearlman, PhD, LCSW is the founder of The Family Coach and an assistant professor of social work at Brandman University. This piece is excerpted from Ignore It! by Catherine Pearlman with the permission of TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Copyright © 2017 by Catherine Pearlman. Follow Catherine on Twitter and Facebook.